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Stepping Stones / February 2015 | Arts & Activities
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Feb 2015

Stepping Stones / February 2015

Stepping Stones / February 2015

Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.


Across the country, many school districts are catching on to the idea of STEM to encourage 21st-century skills and innovative thinking. STEM is an educational perspective focusing on four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics, applied in an interdisciplinary approach. Rather than teach the subjects in four different classes, STEM integrates them into a cohesive unit, which attempts to mirror real-world scenarios. But in order to really achieve real-world applications, we need to factor in creative thinking skills. 

Over the past few years, many educators (not just art teachers) have been pushing for changing STEM to STEAM (including the A for arts) to truly meet the standards of 21st-century skills. According to Susan Riley, founder of EducationCloset, “STEM alone misses several key components that many employers, educators, and parents have voiced as critical for our children to thrive in the present and rapidly approaching future.” 

To properly implement the STEAM approach, we need to be sure to include standards from different disciplines, which create interdisciplinary connections. We also need to include assessments for all the disciplines reached. And believe it or not, many of us have already been doing so. 

1. We teach science in art. When introducing lessons about landscapes, living forms, or the human body, we identify and describe elements in artworks reflecting these subjects. My students can tell you what fins are for on a fish when creating an ocean-themed project, or what animals can camouflage to hide from predators in a pattern project. We are also tapping into science standards when working with materials. Through the use of artistic materials, we are performing experiments and manipulating the ingredients to create something new. Clay is a prime example. When you first work with ceramic clay, it is soft and damp, but once dried after your project is created, the clay is hardened and ready for firing or painting.

2. We teach technology in art. Even if your school has little to no resources for hands-on technology in the classroom, you still have some form of modern day conveniences within your room. Currently, iPads are the next wave in digital arts. Schools that can provide iPads for each student are able to enhance students’ digital skills with artworks created from sketchbook apps. If you have a laptop and a projector in your room, students are familiar with the technology used to display images and utilize online resources for project inspiration. If you have a camera in the room, you can share with students how to document their work, or even how to take different types of photos to identify elements of art. Even an overhead projector is an element of technology that students can interact with.

3. We teach engineering in art. We know of engineering as a branch of science and technology that focuses on the design, construction, and use of machines and structures, but it is also the action of working artfully to bring something about. It does sound like the arts can fit into this category, but when STEM is talked about in a curriculum, many times the “creating” part of engineering focuses on the mechanical aspect. In art, we design, construct and many times use our artworks from our imagination or from subjects that inspire us. We can be architects designing drawings of buildings, fabricators constructing mechanical artworks, or mini scientists designing robots.

4. We advocate for the arts in education. Even though the arts have been pushed aside with the “race to the top,” NCLB, and common-core push, we are still the glue that holds the bridge together. When advocating for the arts in your schools, share how you tap into core subjects in your lessons, reinforcing what students learn. This can be done while you show how you keep the integrity of the art standards. Display your students’ work around the school, share it in the community, and show your administration the importance of the arts in STEAM.

5. We teach Math to the students. We use geometry, symmetry, perspective, measurements, and more, all while scaffolding these skills as the grade levels advance. Are you using grids to create larger-scale projects? You’re including mathematics standards within your lessons! While you are assessing student work that requires the use of shapes, symmetry, and measurements, we are also assessing on the math standards.

So, how can we change from STEM to STEAM? Consider presenting your findings to your board of directors and curriculum director. It’s a lot of work, but nothing can change unless you shine the light. STEAM encourages collaborative effort. If you approach your staff and share ideas of working together, over time your classes will be like a laboratory, a room of discovery and innovation.

Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT) teaches elementary art for Indian Springs School District #109, in the Greater Chicago Area. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com



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